Palette [2021 Loraine Williams Poetry Prize Featured Finalist]

From a love poem by Montale
I learned about a bug—cochineal—

A parasite that eats the red 
Fruit of prickly pear 

And then becomes the color carmine.
In another book I found 

Rose madder: softer 
Red, fugitive, from a root

Remnants of which were found in King Tut’s tomb.
The teacher who translated Montale also

Loved Indian speeches and Greek plays, 
Antonioni’s films. He liked us—I won’t

Say love, his mixture of respect
And interest. Bildung is

Reading with feeling, culture, 
And history. Education is love

For something beyond the self,
Nietzsche said. My love

For color is so intense
I dream of shoes to complement 

A dress. Eggplant edged with
Daffodil or pale blue

Striped with hickory. And I recall
My teacher’s voice: a cello well 

Played with a horsehair bow.
Twenty-five, sipping tea in his living

Room and introduced to—what?
I had no garden then. But studied:

Pallet from straw, palate 
For the roof of the mouth.

I know the difference between
These words—and so? Someday 

I’ll forget the color Vermeer used  
For Mary’s blouse or why it matters.

My teacher died at the age I am now
Thirty years ago. I wish I could tell him

I’ve eaten prickly pear and seen 
Cochineal. And that he made

Me feel a pull like gravity
But from the sky. 


Natasha Sajé is the author of Terroir: Love, Out of Place, a memoir-in-essays (Trinity UP, 2020); five books of poems, including the chapbook Special Delivery (Diode Editions, 2021) and the forthcoming The Future Will Call You Something Else (Tupelo, 2022); and a postmodern poetry handbook, Windows and Doors: A Poet Reads Literary Theory (Michigan, 2014). She teaches in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing Program.